Muromachi Bakufu (室町幕府)

Muromachi Bakufu was a samurai government established by Takauji ASHIKAGA. It was Japan's second Bakufu government, following the Kamakura Bakufu. The name 'Muromachi' was derived from the Muromachi-dono, which was built by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the third Ashikaga Shogun, to serve as the public residence of the Shogun (commonly known as Hana no Gosho, this residence is located in what is now Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City).

Period of rule

There are two views regarding the year of Muromachi Bakufu's establishment--in November 1336, when the administrative policies of Bakufu were set up (being clearly indicated as Kenmu Shikimoku), or in 1338, when Takauji ASHIKAGA was assigned as Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") by Emperor Komyo of Jimyoin-to faction (持明院統); however, the former view is more convincing.

Regarding the time when the bakufu ended, it virtually ended in 1573 when the fifteenth shogun, Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, was banished from Kyoto by Nobunaga ODA. The period of slightly more than 240 years between the beginning and the end is called the Muromachi period. Furthermore, the period until the unification of Hokucho and Nancho is called the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, and the period after the Onin War (1467) or the Meio Incident (1493) is called the Age of Civil War (Japan).

Because procedures for the removal of Seii Taishogun were not implemented even after Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA's banishment from Kyoto, he was still treated as a shogun by the powers opposed to Nobunaga. "Kugyo-Bunin" treated Yoshiaki as a Shogun until February 9 1588, when he followed Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, chief adviser to the Emperor, and visited the Imperial Palace, vowed loyalty to Hideyoshi and was granted status as Ju-sangu.

Also, according to the official opinion of the government at the time, from the end of the Meiji period until defeat in World War II, Nancho (Japan) was regarded as the legitimate imperial line, and this age was referred to as the 'period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan)'; because of such a view, the first shogun Takauji, the second shogun Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA and the third shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA were not acknowledged as official shoguns (based on imperial history).

Central Government

The staff organization of Muromachi Bakufu is more or less adapted from the organization of Kamakura Bakufu. As for law, Takauji enacted Kenmu Shikimoku as a basic law (in 1336). As a detailed law, Goseibai-shikimoku (Joe-shikimoku) of the Kamakura period was applied, and when necessary an additional law called 'Kenmu-irai-tsuika' was issued to supplement the above. Government during the initial period was unstable, partly because Nancho still existed. Also, a government structure was assigned with the shogun at the top, along with Samurai-dokoro, government office, monchu-jo, hyojo-shu, hikitsuke-shu as the control with the role of supporting the shogun.

Muromachi Bakufu was a united government of Shugo daimyos, and the control originating from the chamberlain position of the Ashikaga clan did not have the actual power that the regents of Kamakura Bakufu had; consequently, government by bakufu was in principle conducted through a council system. The major Shugo daimyos referred to as Sankan--the Hosokawa clan, Shiba clan and Hatakeyama clan--assumed the position of control and supported the Shogun, while the Akamatsu clan, Isshiki clan, Yamana clan and Kyogoku clan, as Shishiki, assumed by turns the position of Shoshi, the chief of Samurai-dokoro. Major posts of the bakufu and shugos governing several lands were held by the Ashikaga family such as the Hosokawa clan, Shiba clan, Yamana clan, Isshiki clan, Hatakeyama clan, Shibukawa clan, Imagawa clan, Uesugi clan (cognate), etc. Also, Hoko-shu was formed as the military power directly under the control of the shogun.

Successive Shoguns: A List of Ashikaga Shoguns

The collapse of the public ownership system of manors = transfer to the system of ownership by Shugo daimyos and the development of a monetary economy are part of the characteristics of Muromachi Bakufu. In the Kamakura period, individual Gokenin directly paid homage to the Shogun (although there were exceptions such as being hired by a strong Gokenin), and shugos were mere supervisors of Gokenin within their lands.

However, during the Muromachi period the Shugo daimyos directly hired samurais in their lands, who became their vassals, and exercised unified control over their lands (since there are exceptions or differences by region, please refer to the item 'System of Ownership by Shugo Daimyos' for details). Subsequently, even Shugo daimyos with power exceeding that of Shogun Muromachi were born. Against such circumstances, Shogun Muromachi hired samurais of various regions over the Shugo daimyos' heads, and formed 'Hoko-shu' as mentioned above, which not only strengthened the direct military power of the shogun but also deterred the control of Shugo daimyos over their lands.

However, while there were cases in which the bakufu subdued individual Shugo daimyos, there was no case where a Shugo daimyo and Shogun Muromachi were fully in conflict with each other. The Shugo daimyos proceeded to exercise control over their lands by the authority that they were assigned to the position of Shugo by Bakufu. Therefore, no matter how much they expanded their power, they could not afford to deny the authority of Shogun Muromachi. After all, if the authority of the Shogun were to be eroded, so too would that of the Shugo daimyo.

There were two shoguns who were assassinated (the sixth, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, and the thirteenth, Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA). Also, four shoguns who died in their place of exile (the tenth, Yoshitane ASHIKAGA; eleventh, Yoshizumi ASHIKAGA; twelfth, Yoshiharu ASHIKAGA; and fourteenth, Yoshihide ASHIKAGA).

Local government

Upon the occurrence of Kanno no Joran, Takauji ASHIKAGA established the Kamakura government in Kamakura as an organization to control 10 countries in the east. The position as chief of this organization was succeeded by the descendant of Motouji ASHIKAGA, a son of Takauji, who served the position of Kanto control (関東管領). Throughout the Muromachi period, Kamakura-kubo (鎌倉公方) was opposed to bakufu and also became gradually opposed to the Uesugi clan, who held the position of Kanto control.

To compete with such power, Bakufu directly hired strong local persons in the land of Kanto and Mutsu, as Kyoto Fuchi-shu. Consequently, in the era of Yoshinori ASHIKAGA the fourth Kamakura-kubo, Mochiuji ASHIKAGA, who raised the Eikyo Rebellion, was conquered and temporarily direct rule by the shogun was exercised but eventually failed; subsequently, Mochiuji's son Shigeuji ASHIKAGA was made the new Kamakura-kubo. However, Shigeuji also raised the Kyotoku Rebellion and escaped to Koga-jo Castle, where he named himself Koga-kubo (古河公方), and as the Uesugi clan split into the Yamanouchi Uesugi and Ogigayatsu Uesugi families, the Kanto region was in a state of turbulence before the Onin War started.

Bakufu refused to simply wait with its arms folded but instead sent the younger brother of the eighth shogun, Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA, Masatomo ASHIKAGA, to Kanto (Horikoshi-kubo (堀越公方)). However, Horikoshi-kubo was also defeated after Masatomo's death by Moritoki ISE (Soun HOJO), a major vassal of the Imagawa clan, and this ended in failure. Also, Koga-kubo, after splitting off Oyumi-kubo (小弓公方), was made a puppet of the Go-Hojo clan, who were descendants of Moritoki.

In Kyushu, Kyushu Tandai, headquartered in Hakata (Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture), was established. Initially, Sadayo IMAGAWA (Ryoshun), who had been ordered to subdue Nancho powers such as Imperial Prince Kanenaga, assumed the position, but the Bakufu feared that Ryoshun would establish his own power in Kyushu; after Ryoshun was dismissed, descendants of the Shibukawa clan succeeded in the position.

In the Tohoku Region Oshu control (奥州管領) was established, which was abolished when two countries of Ou became under the control of Kamakura-fu, and during a certain period Inamura-kubo (稲村公方) and Sasagawa-kubo (篠川公方) were established. Oshu Tandai (奥州探題) was established during the era of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, and Iekane SHIBA was assigned. Ushu Tandai (羽州探題) split after the death of Iekane, and the Shiba clan of Dewa became the Mogami clan.

Upon the abasement of the Shogun's authority after the Onin Rebellion, Sankan Shishiki (other than the Hosokawa clan) also fell, and when in the middle of the Age of Civil War the power of the Hosokawa clan weakened, the various systems of Muromachi Bakufu became mere terms. Meanwhile, the regional ruling classes called Kokujin (国人) gained power. In the southern part of Yamashiro Province, where the Yamashironokuni Riot occurred, self-government (in addition to regional ruling classes, farmers, etc.) also participated. Such Kokujin powers were regrouped/merged and developed into strong warring lordships, which competed with each other and grew in power; they replaced government by Bakufu and gave rise to the trend of civil war that followed.


The majority of the financial income of Muromachi Bakufu came from Goryo-sho (御料所), which was directly controlled by Bakufu; but often, during the war of the Northern and Southern Courts, the Goryo-sho became a target and were taken by the opposing Nancho side, or were given away as rewards for one's own army, and the scale of Goryo-sho is considered to be smaller than that of Kamakura Bakufu or Edo Bakufu. Additionally, Tansen (段銭) and Munabetsu-sen (棟別銭), etc., were charged. Operating taxes, etc., were collected from merchants in exchange for the special privileges and protection provided to them, and Tsuryou (津料) was charged from various ports and Sekisen (tolls) from barriers. Furthermore, when a permanent right to charge Yakusen (役銭) from Doso (土倉) and Sakaya (酒屋) in Kyoto was allowed during the era of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, Yakusen were charged together with Tansen, Munabetsu-sen, etc., by the doso appointed by Bakufu, who were referred to as Nosen-kata. Nosen-kata were later also entrusted with clerical matters such as the safekeeping/bookkeeping of tax income, and such doso were referred to as Kubo-okura (公方御倉). Furthermore, when Yoshimitsu initiated trade between Japan and Ming, profit by Chubunsen (抽分銭) also became the income of Bakufu. Due to the limited numbers of trade activities, they remained as income of a temporary nature, but it is said that there were cases where income from a single trade was as great as the other tax income of several years. Other special income included Reisen (礼銭) and Buichisen (分一銭). Furthermore, since the latter half of the fifteenth century, action was taken to make the Yamashiro Province (within Kyoto) a Goryo-sho.